Family child care and child care centers are businesses with accounting measures and regulations to follow. They are essential for maintaining a workforce for our businesses and are instrumental in providing early education at an important stage of child development, beginning the preparation of our future workforce. Not having enough safe, affordable and accessible child care options is being identified as a growing barrier to economic development in west central Minnesota, including Kandiyohi County, where it’s estimated another 776 child care slots are currently needed.
At the March 1, 2018 MAPCED (MN Association of Professional County Economic Developers) meeting, child care was a topic of discussion. Joining the economic developers, including Aaron Backman and Connie Schmoll, were agencies representing services to child care providers. The last comment by the representatives of the child care agencies was a statement of gratitude that economic development is at the table.
Minnesota Child Care Shortage
DHS Deputy Commissioner, Jim Koppel, attended and addressed the MAPCED meeting, stating he and he and his wife often say, “Life is only as good as child care.” He reported that since 2003, Minnesota has lost one provider a day. Deserts exist in some parts of the state and families are traveling in excess of 30 miles one way, twice each workday, to transport children. He believes there can be and must be solutions to secure safe, affordable and quality child care for all communities in the state.
Shawntera Hardy, Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED) Commissioner also chimed in, “The shortage of quality, affordable child care in Minnesota is having a ripple effect across the state, affecting families, employers, economies and communities.”
The Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities at its fall conference in Alexandria identified four major issues to bring before legislators during the 2018 session with child care options as one of the four. Other issues identified include the passage of another bonding bill, increase in LGA funding, and money for street repairs in small towns.
The Greater Minnesota Partnership released its 10 policy positions for the session and included child care as one of its top three priorities.
Child Care in Kandiyohi County
The Kandiyohi County and City of Willmar Economic Development Commission voted at its spring 2018 strategic planning session to include child care as a topic of importance and worthy of investing staff time in community collaborative efforts to find solutions.
Since that time, Connie Schmoll promoted application with First Children’s Finance (FCF) to secure technical assistance in the form of facilitating local conversations around the need for additional child care options in the Kandiyohi County area. United Community Action Partnership (UCAP) submitted the application and was awarded a Rural Child Care Innovation Program Grant for this purpose. The first meeting with FCF took place on July 27th, with a local child-care leadership team including 20 people from the area representing a variety of organizations and child care providers, including the EDC, UCAP, Kandiyohi County child care licensing and Child Protection Services, United Way, Mid-Minnesota Regional Development Commission, Willmar Area Community Foundation, Southwest Initiative Foundation and local businesses, including Jennie-O and Bethesda.
FCF staff member, Jessica Beyer was assigned to the community to lead the discussion and planning process. At the first meeting, an introduction to FCF was provided. Videos were viewed which showed the tremendous benefits of quality child care for children in the important early years of child development. Preliminary data for child care provisions and the upcoming need for the spaces was reviewed. Core team members provided information that was instrumental in creating a final version of the supply and demand picture.
The second meeting took place on Friday, September 7th. FCF staff member, Jessica Beyer led an action-packed, two-hour discussion and planning process. Decisions were made and core team leaders took on tasks to plan and implement the following:
1. Conduct a Child Care Provider Appreciation event tentatively scheduled for October 30, 2018.
2. Conduct surveys on child care with parents, employers and providers, including past providers, with a collection deadline of November 1, 2018.
3. Conduct a Community Conversation inviting interested people from the entire county scheduled for November 29, 2018.
The end result of the survey, community conversation and follow-up planning will be creating a community action plan.
Working Towards a Solution
In addition to this planning team, other entities are conducting similar solution gathering meetings. At the state level, a delegation of state senators led by Senator Bill Weber implemented several listening sessions on the issue of child care. “Child care is becoming a real economic development issue in rural Minnesota,” said Sen. Bill Weber, R-Luverne, chairman of the Senate task force gathering information about the issue.
The task force made a visit to Willmar on August 13th with more than 30 community representatives taking part. Carolyn Lange of the West Central Tribune reported, “At that listening session in Willmar, a single mom of two talked about how difficult it is to work until 6 p.m. when her day care provider closes at 5 p.m. “How can I get ahead without child care?” she asked.
Home day care providers talked about the inconsistent application of regulations, how caring for school-aged kids an hour or two a day eliminates a full-time placement of a younger child under current license limitations, and how high home insurance costs to operate a home daycare and the lack of health care makes it difficult for independent owners to stay in business.
Operators of day care centers talked about the challenge of finding licensable space, difficulties in paying qualified teaching staff enough to keep them on the job and the long list of names of children on a waiting list to get in. Women who are thinking about getting pregnant are already looking for day care, said one provider — only half joking.
“We’re all hearing this same complaint about child care in all corners of the state,” said Sen. David Tomassoni, DFL-Chisolm, a member of the task force.”
At the third quarter meeting on Minnesota Association of Professional County Economic Developers, the issue of child care was once again on the agenda as a topic of interest. Four panel members including Debi Brandt of United Community Action Partnership, Scott Marquardt of Southwest Initiative Foundation, Jessica Beyer of FCF and Reggie Wagner, MN Department of Human Services first talked about their agency and roles in the area of child care. They then offered suggestions about how communities can begin to tackle the child care access issues locally. Brandt spoke of the Rural Childcare Innovation Program that has begun in Kandiyohi County, gaining the interest of all economic developers in attendance.
The Kandiyohi County Economic Development Commission is pleased to be part of so many concerned groups, all working to find solutions. With such a vast interest by varied disciplines, answers are sure to be found. More and more, we are finding that the issue of quality, affordable childcare access is affecting nearly everyone in the county. To let your voice be heard, plan to attend the Community Conversation on Child Care, scheduled for November 29, 2018. A free dinner will be offered at 6 p.m. Discussion begins at 6:30 p.m. Child care and transportation will be provided for those who can only come with this assistance. This all takes place at the Kandiyohi County Health & Human Services Building, lower level Conference Room, 2200 23rd Street, NE, Willmar, MN.